Ideas

Mistaken Identities: Country - Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical, romantic view of nationhood

"What binds citizens together is a commitment to sharing the life of a modern state, united by its institutions, procedures and precepts," says philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah in the 2016 BBC Reith Lectures.
In the 2nd of his Reith Lectures, philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical, romantic view of nationhood. (Pixabay/CC)

In the 2016 BBC Reith Lectures, philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah considers Creed, Country, Colour, and Culture. He argues that we over-emphasize scripture in our view of faith; that our concept of nationhood is usually mythical and romantic; that race is 'something we make, not something that makes us"; and that the idea of "Western" civilization is far too limiting. But, he suggests, a broader perspective on all of these offers genuine hope for the world. Recorded in London, Glasgow, Accra in his native Ghana, and New York.


**Please note: This episode is not available to download. Streaming audio is available for listening until February 3, 2017.





 


What makes us who we are?  Is it our religion?  Our nation?  Our race?  Our traditions? None of these things? All of them?

In the 2nd of his Reith Lectures, philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical, romantic view of nationhood, saying instead it should rest on a commitment to shared values.

He explores the history of the idea, born in the 19th century, that there are peoples who are bound together by an ancient common spirit and that each of these nations is entitled to its own state. He says this idea is a mistaken one, illustrating his argument through the life story of the writer who took the pen name Italo Svevo - meaning literally Italian Swabian. He was born a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and became a citizen of the new republic of Italy, all without leaving his home city of Trieste. Appiah argues that states exist as a set of shared beliefs rather than membership of some sort of mythical and ancient group. "What binds citizens together is a commitment," he says, "to sharing the life of a modern state, united by its institutions, procedures and precepts."

This lecture was recorded in front of an audience at the University of Glasgow. The series is presented and chaired by Sue Lawley.

Kwame Anthony Appiah grew up in Ghana and in London, the son of a Ghanaian independence leader and an English mother. He's taught at some of the world's top universities, and has written extensively about ethics, honour, and cosmopolitanism.  He's also a novelist, and now teaches philosophy and law at New York University.


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**The producer of the Reith Lectures for the BBC is Jim Frank.

**The producer of this episode for IDEAS is Dave Redel.

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